Coffins at the Fitzwilliam

The gang responsible for the theft of jade items at the Fitzwilliam Museum several years ago has just been convicted at a Birmingham court. It seems that the fourteen men planned and commissioned a number of raids across the country, from Durham to Norwich to Cambridge to Lewes, some more successful than others – most items stolen were rapidly recovered, several of the sub-contracted thieves were apprehended in the act, and one object failed to make it into the gang’s hands when the thieves who had stolen it buried it and forgot to mark the spot. (read about the ongoing trial and the trail of mishap and destruction, here).

Unfortunately, the raid on the Fitzwilliam was among the more successful. Four burglars made off with a dozen or so items from the Chinese galleries, none of which has yet been recovered.

A great pity. The museum soldiers on, however, in this, its bicentenary year. A major exhibition has just opened on the museum’s Egyptian coffin sets. Donated to the museum in 1822, shortly after its foundation, the coffins remain among the best preserved and most complete in the world. Recent restoration work has revealed considerable new information on the working practices of the makers of the coffins, and the exhibition focusses on the process of investigation and restoration, and of course on its outcomes (conservators at the museum will be working in the exhibition space so that they can answer any questions which might arise). Among other techniques employed was a radiological scan of one of the coffins, carried out at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, just down the road. In addition to the Fitzwilliam’s own collection, a small number of significant loan works from the British Museum and the Louvre are also on display.

Death on the Nile: Uncovering the afterlife of ancient Egypt is on now, and runs until 22 May 2016. Admission is free.